Let me set the stage for my journey as an #SAGrad advisor: In 2011, I graduated from Youngstown State University (go Penguins!) with my degree in Special Education. After a year and a half teaching and learning a great deal of self-awareness and resilience, my journey ultimately led me back to YSU in the Counseling, Student Affairs Leadership and Practice program in the summer of 2013. During my undergraduate years, I was an active member of our local sorority, Alpha Omega Pi (later recolonized to become Alpha Omicron Pi). I was elated to participate in the alumnae initiate process with Alpha Omicron Pi and officially joined the organization in October 2013.
As a new #SAGrad, I knew that I wanted to experience student organization advising. What better way to do so then to advise for the organization that had given so much to me, I was far enough removed, right? With the exception of the current Chapter President, the majority of the active collegiate members had not been in chapter with me. The only other prior relationship I had was with the Chapter Advisor, the same person who advised when I was serving as President. It was the perfect setting. I quickly found that no matter how perfect the setting, advising student organizations requires one thing over all: boundaries.
I was advising our VP of Academic Development. We had gotten off to a great start. I felt that I was appropriately coaching and mentoring not only the young woman who was my direct advisee but our Academic Development committee at large. Our first handbook revision had gone splendidly, everyone was on board and ready to implement new academic programming initiatives.
No more than two days later, the tear-filled phone calls and text messages began coming in, including screen shots of members who did not agree with the new initiatives. My issue wasn’t that this communication was taking place, but that more often than not, the text messages would come throughout the work day with follow-up texts when a response wasn’t received immediately. The phone calls would easily last 1-2 hours and generally began around 9 PM. I found myself driving over to the collegiate member’s residence hall after a grueling night of graduate classes to discuss how she should go about handling the most recent academic situation.
A month passed and it felt that every free moment I had was being spent advising in some way. I found myself sitting with a member of my graduate school cohort who was also a YSU alum and a member of our Greek community during her undergraduate years. As I was venting, she something that stuck with me: “It’s because they think you’re just like them”. That was when it hit me. The women I was advising saw me as their peer. I was taking classes in the same buildings they were. My partner had been a member of the Greek community at YSU, very similar to many of the women. Not to mention, I lived on campus. I was not nearly as far removed as I thought. I was so eager to advise that I had never taken the opportunity to discuss my role and expectations with the women I was advising.
Even after this epiphany, I knew that I was not going to be able to establish strict boundaries with my advisee mid-way through the semester because that was not fair to her. However, come fall semester, I sat down with my advisee and we had a great discussion about appropriate boundaries within our advisor-advisee relationship. Let me tell you, it made a world of difference! I very rarely feel as though I am burning the candle at both ends. Advising has quickly taken a turn from being something that I felt I had to do to improve as a professional to something that I genuinely enjoy doing.
My suggestions for boundaries are this: it all depends what you are most comfortable with and the way in which you prefer communicating. Here is what worked for me:
- Conflict Resolution Strategies – My advisee and I spent a great deal of time discussing conflict resolution strategies and how she would be able to implement them. This made moments that were formerly recognized as emergencies seem not so overwhelming to her. She felt much more confident handling the situation on her own without engaging me in every step of the process. This informally assisted in setting boundaries because it dramatically decreased the late-night, panicked text messages.
- Scheduled Communication Times – We set up a weekly communication time (Friday at 12 PM to be exact) where my advisee knew that she would update me and be able to ask questions. She knew that for that hour, she had my undivided attention.
- Meetings should not happen after 8 PM – Plain and simple, no one should have to be in a meeting after 8 PM. I believe it is an important professional skill for advisees to be respectful of their own, their advisor, and their committee’s time. Yes, 8 PM may seem like the best time because everyone watches Scandal together at 9, but when you are a professional you are going to have to schedule meetings during business hours. This is good practice.
Advising an organization so near and dear to my heart has been one of my most rewarding experiences I have had as an #SAGrad. I hope my story can helps you in setting boundaries with your student organizations and enjoying your time as an #orgadvisor!
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!